USACBI Statement on Steven Salaita’s Legal Settlement with UIUC

USACBI stands in solidarity with Professor Steven Salaita in his legal settlement with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.  

Last week, the University agreed to pay Salaita a reported total of $875,000.

As was widely reported, UIUC fired Salaita in 2014 after he made comments on his personal Twitter account critical of Israel”s massacre of more than 2,000 Palestinians in Gaza.  Salaita sued the University in response.

USACBI supports Salaita unequivocally.  He has fallen prey to the ‘Palestinian exception’ to the First Amendment, having been singled out for his criticisms of Israeli state policies and for his vigorous and eloquent advocacy of the academic boycott and BDS.  As reported by Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights, more than 300 incidents of repression of Palestinian free speech on college campuses have been recorded in recent times:

The legal settlement in the Salaita case reflects the power Zionist donors holdover the University: their aspirations to keep Salaita off the faculty have been achieved, even as the lawsuit led to the exposure of documents evidencing their undue influence. Despite this, the UIUC administration has admitted no wrongdoing, and said it never intended to offer Salaita a job, demonstrating how firm the administration’s commitment to Zionist interests are. The Salaita case also led to the significant weakening of the Department of American Indian Studies at UIUC and represents an erasure of faculty autonomy and democratic campus governance.

UIUC chose not to give Salaita his job back in the face of a boycott by 5,000 academics from around the nation, formal censure by the American Association of University Professors, and two million dollars in legal costs.  These facts also speak to the power of Zionist politics and the neoliberal, corporate, donor-driven politics of the University.

More broadly, the Salaita firing and settlement have underscored the growing impact of the academic and cultural boycott of Israel and more generally of the Palestinian liberation struggle on the University.

Salaita, who is and remains a member of USACBI”s Organizing Collective, wrote in public support of the American Studies Association”s vote to boycott Israeli Universities in 2013. He remains a principled and prolific  public intellectual respecting the boycott. Only last week, he asserted, in a statement published after the settlement, that he will “always condemn injustice, no matter the state of [his] employment.”  UIUC”s actions against Salaita cannot be delinked from his open and principled espousal of the BDS movement.  Indeed former UIUC President Phyllis Wise, who delivered Salaita“s termination notice, was an open opponent of the academic and cultural boycott of Israel.

Salaita“s firing has therefore revealed how the university remains an important primary site not only for Zionist and corporate-funded repression, but also of political organizing and resistance for supporters of Palestinian liberation. The campaign sparked by Salaita“s case has also revealed the will of many faculty to challenge this nexus of neoliberalism and Zionism in the university, especially faculty at UIUC who mobilized in defense of Salaita, and who have called for his reinstatement in a fraught climate.

The Salaita case also led to the significant weakening of the Department of American Indian Studies at UIUC and represents an erasure of faculty autonomy and democratic campus governance.  Because the settlement has left these issues unresolved faculty members around the country are now asking the AAUP to retain its censure.

USACBI recognizes the efforts of these faculty and calls on our supporters to recommit your efforts to the academic and cultural boycott of Israel in the wake of the Salaita case. If Salaita continues to condemn injustice, whether in Lebanon or the U.S., we who have the privilege to work in the U.S. academy must step up, speak out, and continue to organize against the collusion of the neoliberal academy with Zionism and the repression of indigenous struggles.

Expanding the BDS movement can help strengthen the Palestinian struggle against apartheid and occupation , and help build networks of support and defense for students and scholars facing repression for standing in solidarity with movements for Palestinian self-determination and indigenous survival.

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